What is a GTIN? – A Complete Explanation

what is a gtin

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Navigating the complexities of global commerce presents a formidable challenge, with businesses facing the daunting task of tracking countless products across vast supply chains. Misidentification and inefficiencies escalate costs and erode trust in the marketplace.

The solution to this pervasive issue lies in adopting the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). GTIN is a standardised identifier that ensures every product can be uniquely recognised and tracked worldwide. They are instrumental in streamlining product tracking, inventory management, and sales processes, not just locally but on a global scale.

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the world of GTIN, unravelling its essence and significance in today’s global market. We’ll cover the different types of GTINs, delve into their operational mechanics, and guide you through creating and printing these crucial identifiers. Finally, we’ll tackle some frequently asked questions to clear up any uncertainties, ensuring you walk away with a comprehensive understanding of GTIN and its pivotal role in commerce.

So, without further ado, let’s get started! 

What is GTIN?

Definition of GTIN

The Global Trade Item Number, short for GTIN, is a unique numerical identifier for products and services used in business worldwide. This code is integral to various business processes, including inventory management, point-of-sale operations, and online product listings. 

Adopting GTIN enables businesses to retrieve predefined information and track and manage products precisely, reducing data discrepancies and improving data quality across various markets and platforms. Additionally, GTINs streamline product recalls and compliance with regulatory standards, allowing businesses to address safety concerns and meet legal obligations quickly.

The development and standardisation of GTIN are overseen by GS1, a leading global organisation dedicated to designing and implementing universal standards in the supply chain. This ensures that GTINs maintain a consistent format and function effectively across international borders, reinforcing their value as a universal product identification and management tool.

What is a GTIN Barcode?

Meaning of GTIN Barcode

A GTIN barcode is a visual representation of the Global Trade Item Number, encoded in a format that can be scanned electronically. This barcode is a gateway to a wealth of product information, including its origin, type, and unique identity. By embedding the GTIN within a barcode, businesses enable automated systems, such as scanners at checkout counters and inventory management tools, to quickly and accurately identify products.

The beauty of a GTIN barcode lies in its universal applicability. Whether it’s a book, clothing, or a grocery item, the GTIN barcode ensures that every product can be globally recognised and tracked. This streamlines the sales and inventory processes and enhances the accuracy of transactions in both physical and digital marketplaces.

GTIN barcodes come in various formats, including the widely recognised UPC (Universal Product Code) in North America, the EAN (European Article Number) in Europe, and other regional variants. 

Despite these differences, the core purpose remains the same: to provide a standardised method for product identification that supports efficient supply chain management worldwide. For a detailed comparison between UPC barcodes and EAN barcodes, including their distinct features and applications, refer to our comprehensive article: UPC vs. EAN Barcodes.

To enhance your knowledge of barcoding technology and its vast landscape, we invite you to delve into our curated selection of informative guides:

  • Barcode 101: This beginner’s guide offers a foundational overview of barcoding, providing a solid starting point for those new to the world of barcodes.
  • Barcode Types: Uncover the diverse array of barcode symbologies, each with its unique characteristics and specific applications, to understand which best suits your needs.
  • Discrete vs Continuous Barcodes: Explore this detailed comparative guide that highlights the key differences between 1D barcode formats, offering insights into their distinct functionalities.
  • 2D Stacked Barcodes vs 2D Matrix Barcodes: Dive into the nuances of 2D barcode technologies, comparing and contrasting stacked barcodes with matrix barcodes to reveal their respective advantages and use cases.


For a more in-depth exploration of barcodes and to access a wealth of resources, please visit our dedicated Barcode Learning Centre. Here, you’ll find a comprehensive knowledge repository designed to empower you with a thorough understanding of barcode technology and its practical applications.

Why are GTINs Important?

Five reasons why GTIN are important

GTIN becomes crucial in businesses owing to a multitude of factors. Their invaluable contribution in helping with your business is evident from the following cases:

Global Standardisation

GTINs are a universal language for product identification, which is crucial for global commerce. They ensure that every product can be uniquely identified anywhere in the world, regardless of where it was made or is being sold. 

This global standardisation simplifies international trade, allowing products to move seamlessly across borders. By adhering to a single system, businesses can efficiently communicate product information with partners, distributors, and retailers worldwide. This eliminates confusion and enhances operational efficiency.

Supply Chain Efficiency

GTINs dramatically streamline the entire supply chain, from manufacturing through to distribution. They enable precise tracking of products, facilitating efficient inventory management and reducing the likelihood of errors. 

This efficiency is crucial for optimising logistics operations, ensuring that products are in the right place at the right time. By providing a clear and consistent method for identifying products, GTINs help to minimise delays, prevent stockouts, and reduce excess inventory.

Retail and E-commerce Integration

GTINs are integral to both physical retail and online e-commerce platforms, simplifying transactions and product listings. 

In retail stores, GTINs facilitate quick and accurate checkout processes, while in e-commerce, they enable efficient listing and cataloguing of products on various platforms. This uniform identification system helps retailers manage their product data effectively, ensuring customers receive accurate information.

For online sellers, GTINs improve the searchability and visibility of products, enhancing the customer shopping experience.

Regulatory Compliance

GTINs are critical in meeting regulatory requirements across various industries, ensuring products are tracked and traced for safety and compliance purposes. Governments and regulatory bodies often mandate the use of GTINs for specific products to streamline recalls, monitor distribution, and enhance public safety.

In healthcare, for example, GTINs are essential for tracking pharmaceuticals and medical devices, helping to prevent counterfeit products from entering the supply chain. Similarly, GTINs facilitate traceability from farm to table in the food industry, crucial for addressing food safety concerns.

Data Management and Analytics

GTINs enhance data management and analytics, enabling businesses to unify product information for better decision-making. Companies can efficiently analyse trends, manage inventory, and understand consumer behaviour across markets by standardising data collection.

This leads to optimised operations, strategic planning, and innovation. GTINs are pivotal in transforming product data into actionable insights, offering a competitive edge through informed decisions and improved market responsiveness.

Components of a GTIN

Components of GTIN

The structure of a GTIN is methodical. Thus, every digit of the number has a particular specific meaning attached to it. This systematic approach ensures that each GTIN is unique and error-free, crucial for reliable product identification and tracking. 

Each GTIN consists of three things, a company prefix assigned by GS1, an item reference number specific to each product, and a check digit for validation. Let’s take a look at each GTIN component in detail. 

The Company Prefix

The Company Prefix is a unique sequence of numbers assigned by GS1 to each member company. A member company is defined as any business that joins GS1 to use its services, including utilising the Global Trade Item Number system. This company prefix acts as a global identifier, distinguishing the company across international markets.

GS1 ensures that each member company is assigned a distinct Company Prefix, eliminating any possibility of duplication. This exclusivity guarantees that no two companies share the same prefix, thereby maintaining the uniqueness of product identifiers across the globe.

The length of the Company Prefix is designed to be flexible, varying according to the number of items a company intends to identify. This variability allows for both flexibility and scalability in product identification, accommodating businesses of all sizes and their diverse range of products. Through this system, GS1 facilitates a structured and efficient approach to global product identification, underpinning the seamless operation of the global supply chain.

How to Obtain Your Company Prefix?

Obtaining a Company Prefix is the first step for a business to start using Global Trade Item Numbers. Here’s a detailed look at how to get a Company Prefix. 

  • Contact Local GS1 Office: Locate the GS1 Member Organisation in your region, available in over 100 countries (like the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and India), to initiate the process.
  • Submit Application: Accurately provide your company’s details, including the scale of your business and specifics about your product range. This information is crucial for tailoring your Company Prefix to your business needs.
  • Pay Membership Fee: The membership fee is structured to be inclusive, varying based on your geographical location and business size. 
  • Receive Your Prefix: GS1 typically processes applications efficiently, enabling you to receive your unique Company Prefix promptly. 


When purchasing a GS1 Company Prefix, consider your current and future product range, as the cost depends on the number of GTINs it can generate. Each unique product variation, encompassing differences in colour, size, or any other distinguishing feature, necessitates its own GTIN to ensure precise identification.

To clarify with a concrete example, consider a T-shirt that is available in four colours (red, blue, green, black) and four sizes (S, M, L, XL). This scenario demands a total of 16 unique GTINs, one for each specific combination of colour and size. For instance, a red T-shirt in a small size will have a different GTIN from a red T-shirt in a medium size, and so on for each colour across all sizes. This meticulous approach ensures that every possible variant of the T-shirt is assigned a unique identifier, facilitating precise tracking and management from the manufacturing process all the way to retail distribution.

This system underscores the importance of planning for the full range of your product variations, including those you may introduce in the future. By doing so, you can ensure that your GS1 Company Prefix provides sufficient capacity for generating GTINs, thereby streamlining your inventory management and enhancing the efficiency of your supply chain operations.

The Item Reference

The item reference is a set of numbers that uniquely identify a product within a company’s product range. This identifier is determined internally by the company and is positioned after the GS1-issued Company Prefix. 

The allocation of the item reference is directly influenced by the length of the Company Prefix. For instance, in a 13-digit GTIN framework, a company with a 5-digit prefix is left with 7 digits to assign to its product numbers (calculated as 13 – 5 prefix digits – 1 check digit = 7). Conversely, a company with a 4-digit prefix would have 8 digits available for product identification, ensuring the GTIN maintains a consistent total length.

The Check Digit

The Check Digit is a single numeric digit at the end of the GTIN, ensuring the GTIN number’s overall integrity and accuracy. It is calculated through a specific yet straightforward algorithm, and it sums and manipulates the preceding digits in a set pattern (More on this later).

If an error occurs during data entry or scanning, a mismatch in the Check Digit highlights the mistake. This straightforward but powerful system plays a vital role in global supply chains, preventing small errors in product identification from causing major logistical issues.

Types of GTINs

Four types of GTINs

GTIN is of four types. 

  1. GTIN-8
  2. GTIN-12
  3. GTIN-13
  4. GTIN-14


GTIN-8 is a compact version of the Global Trade Item Number designed for smaller items, such as chewing gum and cigarette packets, that cannot accommodate larger barcodes. As the name suggests, GTIN-6 consists of an 8-digit numerical code. 

The structure of GTIN-8 includes a 2- or 3-digit GS1 prefix (indicating the country of the issuing organisation), a 4- or 5-digit item reference, and a single check digit to ensure the number is correctly composed. 


GTIN-12 is a 12-digit Global Trade Item Number primarily used in North America, especially for retail items. It’s widely recognised under its former name, UPC (Universal Product Code). 

The structure of GTIN-12 includes a 1- or 2-digit GS1 prefix (indicating the country of the issuing organisation), a 5- or 6-digit company number, a 5-digit product number, and a single check digit to verify the accuracy of the entire number.


GTIN-13, commonly known as the European Article Number (EAN-13), is a 13-digit Global Trade Item Number used worldwide for marking products often sold at retail point of sale. 

Out of 13 digits, the first 2-3 digits are the GS1 prefix assigned to national GS1 Member Organizations, followed by a sequence of 4-5 digits representing the company number, a 5-digit product reference, and ending with a single check digit for error detection.


GTIN-14 is the most extensive format in the Global Trade Item Number system, designed to accommodate the needs of various packaging levels. This 14-digit number is primarily used for cases, cartons, or pallets of products, facilitating efficient logistics and supply chain management. 

The structure of GTIN-14 includes a leading “Indicator Digit” that specifies the packaging hierarchy (e.g., a single item, a case, or a pallet), followed by a GTIN-13 number. The GTIN-13 portion comprises a GS1 prefix, a company number, a product number, and a check digit. The initial digit, the Indicator, plays a crucial role in differentiating between items and their bulk packaging, allowing businesses to streamline inventory and shipping processes.

GTIN-14 is essential for wholesalers, retailers, and manufacturers dealing with bulk shipments and managing products at different packaging levels. It ensures that each packaging level is uniquely identified, improving accuracy in order tracking, stock management, and distribution. 

How Does a GTIN Work?

Flowchart on how does a GTIN work

The Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) system functions through a structured, technical process that ensures every product can be uniquely identified globally. Here’s a closer look at the technical workings behind GTIN:

  • Assignment of Numbers: GTINs are assigned based on rules set by GS1. A company must first obtain a GS1 Company Prefix, a unique identifier for the company itself. The length of this prefix varies by country and the size of the company, affecting the remaining digits available for product identification.
  • Product Identification: After obtaining a GS1 Company Prefix, the company assigns product numbers to create a full GTIN. This process involves selecting a unique number for each product variant (size, flavour, etc.) under their prefix. The final digit of a GTIN is a check digit, calculated through a specific algorithm to validate the integrity of the GTIN.
  • Encoding GTIN in Barcodes: Depending on the product type and distribution needs, the GTIN is then encoded into a barcode format, such as UPC, EAN, or ITF-14. This encoding process translates the GTIN into a series of bars and spaces that can be scanned electronically.
  • Scanning and Decoding: At the point of sale or during logistics operations, barcode scanners read the encoded GTIN. The scanner uses a laser or imaging technology to detect the barcode’s pattern, decoding it back into the GTIN. This decoded number is then used to look up product information in a database, such as price, name, and quantity.
  • Data Synchronisation: The GTIN enables data synchronisation across the supply chain. Companies use GTINs to link product information in databases and electronic data interchange (EDI) systems. This synchronisation ensures that all parties in the supply chain have consistent and accurate product information.
  • Global Reach and Interoperability: The standardised nature of GTINs allows for global interoperability. Products can be shipped, received, and sold worldwide, with their GTINs serving as a universal language for product identification. This global system eliminates confusion and enhances efficiency in international trade.

How to Create a GTIN?

To create a GTIN number for your business, you need to follow these simple steps:

Join GS1

First, join GS to start creating GTINs for your products. This gives you access to the GS1 system and the ability to generate unique product identifiers. 

Get a GS1 Company Prefix

After joining GS1, you’ll receive a GS1 Company Prefix. This unique number identifies your company in the global supply chain. The length of your prefix varies based on how many products you plan to identify, allowing for a range of product numbers to be assigned under your company’s umbrella.

Assign Product Numbers

With your GS1 Company Prefix, assign a unique product number to each item or variant you sell. This step is crucial for differentiating your products from others in the global marketplace. The combination of your company prefix and this product number will form the basis of your GTIN, ensuring each product has a unique identifier.

Choose the GTIN Format

Select the appropriate GTIN format for your product based on its size, packaging, and where it will be sold. 

Options include GTIN-8 for smaller items, GTIN-12 primarily for North American products, GTIN-13 for international products, and GTIN-14 for items sold in bulk or in varying packaging levels. 

This choice determines how your product will be identified and tracked globally.

Calculate the Check Digit

The last step in creating your GTIN is calculating the check digit. This is the final digit of your GTIN, ensuring the number is valid and correctly composed. The check digit is calculated using a specific formula based on the preceding digits in your GTIN. This critical step helps prevent errors in the barcode scanning process, ensuring accurate product identification.

How to Calculate the Check Digit?

The formula to calculate the check digit for a GTIN is based on the “Modulo 10” or “Luhn” algorithm. Here’s a simplified explanation of how it works:

  • List the Digits: Write down all the digits of your GTIN except for the check digit (since that’s what you’re calculating).
  • Multiply and Add: From the right, multiply every second digit by 3. Add these results to the sum of the digits that were not multiplied by 3.
  • Calculate the Modulo: Take the total sum obtained from step 2 and calculate the modulo 10 of this sum. The modulo is the remainder when the sum is divided by 10.
  • Determine the Check Digit: Subtract the modulo from 10 to get the check digit. If the modulo is 0, then the check digit is also 0.


Here’s an example of how to create the same: 

For a GTIN-12 with the digits 12345678901X (where X is the check digit we want to calculate):

  • Step 1: List the digits without the check digit: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1
  • Step 2: Multiply every second digit by 3 and add: (1+ (23) +3+ (43) +5+ (63) +7+ (83) +9+ (0*3) +1) = 57
  • Step 3: Calculate the modulo of the sum: 57 % 10 = 7
  • Step 4: Subtract the modulo from 10 to get the check digit: 10 – 7 = 3. So, the check digit (X) is 3.

This formula ensures that the GTIN is valid and helps detect errors during scanning.

How to Print a GTIN?

Generate the Barcode

Once you have your complete GTIN, including the check digit, the next step is to generate a barcode that visually represents this number and serves as a data carrier. Here’s how to do it:

  • Select a Barcode Format: Choose a barcode symbology that fits your product and industry requirements. Common formats for data carriers include UPC-A for North American retail, EAN-13 for international retail, and ITF-14 for shipping containers.
  • Barcode Generation Software: Use barcode generation software or online tools to convert your GTIN into a barcode. These tools automatically format the barcode according to the selected symbology.

Use BarTender to Generate Barcodes!

While free barcode generators might seem appealing due to their no-cost advantage, but they often lack the robustness, reliability, and support for professional-grade operations. Enter BarTender by Seagull Scientific, a premier solution that transcends the limitations of free tools. 

BarTender by Seagull Scientific is a comprehensive label designing and printing software that facilitates the creation of labels, barcodes, RFID tags, and more. 

BarTender sets itself apart with its seamless compatibility with enterprise systems such as ERP and WMS, embedding barcode generation directly into your operational flow. Its user-friendly design interface simplifies the process of crafting labels and barcodes, eliminating the need for complex programming skills.

With over 400 pre-designed barcode components and support for 105 symbologies, BarTender caters to a wide array of industry standards. It also boasts an extensive selection of ready-to-use label templates, enhancing its utility. The software’s ability to link with various data sources, including databases and CSV files, coupled with its advanced date/time serialisation features, highlights its adaptability for generating diverse barcodes and labels.

Discover more about BarTender’s capabilities in our comprehensive What is BarTender? guide. 

At Triton Store, we proudly offer the full suite of BarTender software editions, namely, Starter Edition, Professional Edition, Automation Edition and Enterprise Edition. We also provide BarTender Cloud, a cloud-based solution for remote label printing and management. 

For insights into how BarTender Cloud compares with the on-premise BarTender software, our BarTender Cloud vs BarTender Software guide is your go-to resource. 

Design with GS1 Standards

Designing your barcode right is always essential. Follow GS1 standards to make sure it scans every time:

  • Size Matters: Match the barcode size to your product and its scan environment. Small items at checkout need compact barcodes, about 1.25 inches wide by 0.5 inches high (about 3.2 cm by 1.3 cm). Likewise, larger items for warehouses can have bigger ones 2 inches wide by 1 inch high (about 5 cm by 2.5 cm).
  • Colour Contrast: Use dark bars on a light background for best scanning. Black on white, navy on light grey, or dark green on white are ideal options.

Mind the Quiet Zones

Quiet zones are the clear spaces on either side of your barcode. Think of them as margins that tell the scanner, “Hey, the barcode starts here and ends here.”

The rule of thumb is to have at least the width of two narrow bars on each side of your barcode. This might vary slightly depending on the barcode type, but it’s a good general guideline.

Without enough quiet zones, your product could face scanning issues, leading to delays and frustration at checkouts or during inventory checks.

Placement is Key

Where you place your barcode on the product packaging is just as important as its design. A well-placed barcode ensures easy and reliable scanning. Here’s what to consider:

  • Visibility: Choose a spot where the barcode is easily visible and accessible for scanning. This means avoiding areas likely to be covered by hands or get obscured during handling.
  • Flat Surfaces: Barcodes work best on flat surfaces. Curved surfaces, like bottles or cans, can distort the barcode, making it hard to scan. If your product is curved, consider a label that wraps around it in a way that keeps the barcode on a flat plane.
  • Standard Locations: There are often industry standards or retailer preferences for barcode placement. For example, the lower right-hand corner of a box is a common choice on the back. Following these conventions can help ensure your product fits smoothly into existing supply chains.
  • Avoid Obstructions: Make sure nothing interferes with the barcode. Seams, folds, or tape over the barcode can prevent it from being scanned properly.


To further enrich your understanding of barcoding and label design, ensuring optimal performance and compatibility, we highly recommend exploring our in-depth guides:

How Does GTIN Differ From Other Barcodes?

The Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) framework is central to the ecosystem of barcodes, providing a universal structure for uniquely identifying products. 

Within this broad framework, specific barcode standards such as EAN (European Article Number) and UPC (Universal Product Code) address particular needs and regional preferences, each with its distinct characteristics and applications.


Within the GTIN family, the European Article Number (EAN) is a prominent standard primarily utilised for retail products outside of North America. Functioning as a GTIN-13, the EAN includes a country code that identifies the product’s country of origin and its manufacturer. This detail is pivotal for companies operating internationally, as it ensures their products are easily recognised and processed within global supply chains.

For a deeper understanding of the relationship between EAN and GTIN, consider exploring our detailed article on EAN vs. GTIN.


Conversely, the Universal Product Code (UPC), or GTIN-12, is specifically designed to meet the demands of the North American market. UPCs are known for their streamlined barcode format, which supports rapid scanning at retail checkout points, making them particularly suited for items with limited packaging configurations. 

Despite the regional focus of UPCs, they are fully integrated into the broader GTIN framework. This integration guarantees that products labelled with UPCs are identifiable and traceable globally, bridging the gap between local market needs and international product identification standards.

For more insights into how UPCs fit within the GTIN system, our article on GTIN vs. UPC provides comprehensive coverage.


GTINs play a pivotal role in modern commerce, offering a standardised approach to product identification across the globe. By enhancing supply chain transparency, simplifying inventory management, and enabling efficient retail operations, GTINs underpin the seamless exchange of trade items in physical and digital marketplaces. 

Their adoption not only ensures operational efficiency but also paves the way for future technological integrations, making GTINs indispensable in the interconnected world of trade.

Frequently Asked Question

What Is a Global Trade Item Number?

A GTIN number is a unique numerical identifier for products and services in the global marketplace, standardised by GS1 to facilitate item tracking, inventory management, and sales processes.

How Does a GTIN Enhance Supply Chain Efficiency?

GTINs streamline supply chains by providing a universal standard for product identification, enabling accurate tracking, reducing errors, and improving inventory management across global networks.

Can GTINs be Used for Services as Well as Products?

Yes, GTINs can be assigned to services in addition to physical products, allowing for the standardised identification and tracking of service offerings in commerce systems.

What are the Key Benefits of Implementing GTINs in E-commerce?

In e-commerce, GTINs improve product discoverability, enhance listing accuracy, and facilitate smoother transactions by ensuring products are uniquely and consistently identified across platforms.

How Do GTINs Support Regulatory Compliance and Product Recalls?

GTINs aid in regulatory compliance and efficient product recalls by enabling precise product identification, quick location of items within the supply chain, and effective communication with stakeholders.

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